Through advanced genetic engineering, parents can choose to have a baby with the perfect looks, intelligence, character, health and fitness. In this future the socially accepted norm is creating the perfect human, a 'Valid'. Ethan Hawke (looking a lot smarter compared to his usual slacker films) is Vincent Freeman. Having the misfortune of being naturally conceived, Vincent is condemned from birth to live as an In-Valid, an underclass of society. Vulnerable to illnesses, passions, emotions - he is imperfect in the eyes of the genetic scientists. The sibling rivalry between his genetically perfect brother and Vincent provides a back drop to the film - providing the underlying impetus that fuels Vincent's childhood ambition of becoming a space navigator. Gattaca Corporation is a company with rules that reflect the culture of perfection. High levels of physical and mental ability are required to qualify as a member of an elite group of people selected to travel on a space journey to Titan, Saturn's fourth moon. Jude Law as the cynical and boisterous wheel-chair bound Jerome. He helps Vincent fulfil his dreams by allowing him to assume his Valid identity and therefore pass through the high level security system and on the spot genetic checks in Gattaca. Along the way, he falls for the beautiful, yet not as it seems genetically perfect, Irene played by Hawke's off-screen girlfriend Uma Thurman. But, investigations surrounding a murder at his workplace disrupt his careful plan to keep his real identity under wraps.
Hawke makes a credible attempt to convey the struggle that his character goes through to prove his merits. The shots of Vincent meticulously scrubbing and brushing every part of his body to remove flecks of dead skin and loose hair captures the pain-staking methods he has to go through to conform to the image and biological form of human perfection which society dictates. However, it is Law who provides the much needed light comic relief and it seems, is the only three-dimensional character. Alan Arkin who plays an old weathered cop, Detective Hugo, also provides a welcome break from the passive style of acting, adding a human touch to the film. The other characters seem to effortlessly glide through the film without creating any impact, delivering just satisfactory performances.
As this film is obsessed with perfection, Slawomir Idzidak's cinematography reinforces this with his very stylistic shots, aided by the emotive musical score of Michael Nyman. Each shot is neat, symmetrical and streamlined. There is great use of perspective and lighting, especially in the shot of Vincent and Irene watching the sun rise on the reflective surfaces in a field of solar panels. Idzidak creates an emotionless, detached and cold world. The Frank Lloyd Wright building used as the Gattaca HQ creates a minimalist, spatial and clean look. Also, the immaculately coiffed hair and the plain sharp suits highlights the order and stability of these perfectly genetic people. Also, the classic Citröen cars and clothes are reminiscent of the 1940's, which adds an almost film noir look to Gattaca. The dark side of science always seems to make good cinema material, exploiting one's fears of the unknown and the concept of taking the realms of science beyond the imaginable. It cleverly deals with a subject that is complex, moralistic and controversial, and links it with a sci-fi thriller genre. Gattaca is a thought-provoking and visually stunning film to watch. It is a sombre film and the acting and the whole look of the film compliments this style. Gattaca does not seek to plunge the viewer in to the scientific world of genetics or of the theories of genocide, but presents us with the consequences of a possible future where a race of genetically engineered superhumans control the reigns of society.
Click here to read about the Gattaca Ethics Discussion Panel at the National Film Theatre (NFT) in London